Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Good Character and Right Action

It seems that all I needed was to confront my concern about a thesis topic, and I got my answer.

In 1993, when I was considering the basics of what is now called desirism, I came up with the notion that a right action is that action that a person with good desires would perform.

Research reveals that in 1996 Rosalind Hursthouse defended the following thesis:

An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically (i.e. acting in character) do in the circumstances.

She wrote this in "Normative Virtue Ethics" from Roger Crisp, ed., How Should One Live? (Oxford University Press, 1996), 19-33.

Since then there has been a discussion of whether a virtue ethics (or a motive ethics) can be action-guiding in the sense of telling a person what to do. Basically, virtue ethics tell a person what to be - what types of motives to have. It does not tell a person what to do. In fact, it is difficult to see how a virtue ethics can even suggest a course of action. After all, it is not like a person can simply choose to acquire a particular character trait. Consequently, the fear is that a virtue ethics is useless as a guide to answer. It cannot help a person answer the one question a morally concerned person constantly confronts. "What (morally) should I do?"

Of course, one of the questions that comes up in defining right action in terms of that which a person with good desires would perform, one has to answer the question, "What counts as good desires?"

I have an answer to that question.

I also have an answer to the question of why rewards such as praise, and punishments such as condemnation, are the correct response to right and wrong actions respectively. They are the forces that mold desires and either strengthen the good desires or counter the bad desires.

Ultimately, it is a paper topic into which I can fit in a number of the key elements of desirism and see how they sit among professional philosophers. Desirism gives me potential answers to these questions that others writing in the field have not already tested.

It is also a topic that I can start working on immediately. I have my own ideas on the topic. In addition, I can start with Rosalind Hursthouse's article and make comments on it - seeing how I can write a paper around it. Discovering other comments on and references to her article will help me to identify a body of literature that I will need to show an awareness of for the thesis. I already know ways in which the subject ties into the writings of David Hume and Henry Sidgwick - two historic philosophers with a strong reputation. I suspect I may have to say a word about Aristotle's virtue theory as well - even though I do not see much in Aristotle's writings that would be relevant.

My first step will be to write a commentary on Hursthouse's article. The next step will be to review comments on the article - criticisms and support. I will be creating the paper as I go through the research, posting it as a "work in progress" on the documents page of the desirism site. Do not look for it yet - I have some initial reading to do and before I start posting notes.

According to Google Scholar, this article has been cited over 200 times. It is obviously an important subject.

In about 700 days I hope to have a masters' thesis passed on the topic of, "The right action is the action that a person with good desires would perform."

Oh, the working title for the paper: "What Would the Virtuous Person Do?" I performed a google search and could not find any reference to a publication with this title in existence.

1 comment:

FredT said...

This is a Buddhist concept, one of the eight.